For decades Romania was considered a good-value place for a skiing holiday, with cheap prices offsetting a somewhat limited amount of slopes and an unreliable snow record. These days, alas, it could be argued that the opposite is true.
The country’s two biggest resorts - Poiana Brasov and Sinaia - have both spent big money over the past couple of years investing in new lifts and slopes, but the cost of lift-passes and - especially - accommodation mean that neither can still be considered budget-destinations. Poiana Brasov especially has become a highly exclusive resort in recent years.
The closest ski resort to Bucharest is Sinaia (alt. 880 metres) less than two hours on the train (even less by car, if the traffic is not too bad) from the capital. Once a quiet monastery settlement in the Prahova Valley, Sinaia became a mountain retreat and resort town with the construction of King Carol I’s summer residence Peles Castle in the 1880s. A direct railway connection to Bucharest was subsequently built allowing courtiers easy access to the palace, and the resort quickly became the summer retreat of choice for the Romanian capital’s wealthy. A casino was built in 1912, by which time Sinaia was so smart it had become a stop on the Orient Express’s route to Istanbul.
As such, there is much to do and see in Sinaia even if downhill skiing never crosses your mind, and is the best choice of Romanian mountain destination for groups which include non-skiers.
First things first: when the weather is good, there is snow in abundance and there are no queues for the lifts, skiing in Sinaia is excellent, and the best in Romania by a long way. Unfortunately, the last time Sinaia enjoyed such blissful conditions was around 1963. (We only half jest). Most of Sinaia’s skiing is done at altitude, making it the most snow-sure of the Prahova Valley resorts. Even when the other resorts lack snow, there can often still be plenty of the white stuff up on Sinaia’s highest slopes.
Sinaia’s skiing is reached either by an old, two-stage cable car, or a newer gondola. The cable car station is behind the Montana hotel, while the gondola lift departs a little further up (it is a bit of a trek if you are walking, especially with skis). The cable car tips out at 1400 metres, where there is a hotel and a couple of bars and ski-rental shacks. From there, you can take the second stage of the cable car up to 2000 metres, or a four man chair-lift. Far quicker is the gondola, which continues through the mid-station up to 2000 metres.
Once up at the top, there are two large, relatively easy and wide open ski areas: Valea Dorului and Valea Soarelui. There are also a number of routes back down to Cota 1400: these are some of the toughest slopes in the country. If there is enough snow, there is a route down to the resort from Cota 1400, although it does involve a fair bit of poling in certain places.
The biggest problem at Sinaia remains the fact that two different companies operate the cable cars, gondolas and chairlifts, and there is therefore no lift pass covering the whole resort.
However, you can now more or less ski every slope in the resort by making use of just the gondolas and the Valea Soarelui chairlift, which are operated by Sinaia Town Council A daily lift pass costs 145 lei for adults, 100 lei for kids. If you use the cable cars or Valea Dorului chairlift you will need seperate tickets. There is a good website dedicated to skiing in Sinaia (with daily updates regarding snow conditions): sinaiago.ro.